The coming of fall here in the Midwest is always a very welcoming time. The humidity finally dies down and a crisp breeze hangs in the air, which in turn makes you want to throw on jeans, boots, and a hoodie and just spend time in the barn.
For our community in the Carbondale, Ill. area, we band together to put on Dunnabeck Horse Trials. Mark and Jill O’Donoghue began running this event years ago as a small horse trials, and it has continued to grow throughout the years. Dunnabeck has hosted Area IV Championships, been condensed down to a one-day, almost been cancelled altogether, and fortunately is holding strong as a two-day horse trials due to the hard work and support from our local barn community.
Dunnabeck is a very well decorated event, with hand crafted cross country jumps that are decorated in lovely fall colors including pumpkins and mums, cornstalks and cane grass, even a goose or two has been spotted under a jump. The courses are different each and every year, with all of the jumps being moved off of the property when the event is not in session.
For Area IV, this event has a lot of terrain, and riders will gallop in and out of the woods, as well as up and down hills while negotiating the questions set by the course designer. There are two water boxes that can be used at each level, and most spectators can see quite a bit of the course while standing in one spot, which makes for a very fun weekend.
This year, Dunnabeck ran a record number of horses, minus the year we hosted Area IV Championships, with 118 entries as of Friday morning. We hosted Starter-Preliminary courses, with a record number of horses in the Preliminary level as well. All of the courses had a great flow to them and encouraged a positive ride, while asking very fair questions for each and every level.
We had just enough rain on Wednesday and Thursday for the footing to be just about perfect all weekend, and the temperatures finally broke to a crisp low-70’s both days. The event ran very smoothly, with only one hold on course when a horse unfortunately slipped in the footing, resulting in cross country being about twenty minutes behind. The majority of riders came home with big smiles, fist pumps, and lots of good things to say about their horses.
Saturday night brought on a wonderful competitors dinner, complete with a band and some really good Mexican food. Everyone gathered under the tents near the secretary’s office and enjoyed catching up with old friends and making some new ones. Area IV is fairly tight-knit and it was very fun to see a lot of riders from the area, who maybe only compete once or twice a year, come out and have a good time.
Mark gave a very heart warming speech, thanking all of the riders and volunteers who have made this special event possible. The Southern Illinois University Equestrian Team played a huge part in helping out this weekend, posting members all over the venue to help with bit check, jump judging, score running, and jump crew on Sunday. It really does take an army, and having a lot of helpers who are not riding is key- thank you guys!
Sunday morning brought some very thick fog, even cooler temperatures, fresh horses, and cool shadows in the show jumping ring. The course was very well decorated, with different themes for the jumps. There was once again a terrain factor, and the course rewarded positive riding and using your turns to help balance your horse without taking away the power.
Rails were spread pretty evenly throughout the divisions and clear rounds were rewarded generously because scores were quite tight across the board. It is easy for spectators to get to the show jumping, and so there is always quite a big crowd and lots of cheers. “Congratulations” could be heard over and over as riders exited the ring and it really gave the event a good feel as everyone stayed around to support one another. I personally do not know how I have a voice today from cheering so loudly throughout the weekend.
We had some very special awards this year that made the event even more fun. Dunnabeck awarded the trainer with the most students competing a free entry for next year (how is that for incentive to get your students there next year?!), USPC gave out a low score Pony Club award, Area IV awarded the low score Adult Rider, and Thoroughbreds Helping Thoroughbreds, Meghan O’Donoghue Eventing, and several other friends of Le Cheval sponsored Low Score Thoroughbred awards at every level, as well as Champion and Reserve Low Score Thoroughbred for the event.
Tribute Feeds donated saddle pads and hay bags as prizes, and then of course there were the coveted Dunnabeck saddle pads awarded to first place finishers in each division. Some riders walked away with quite a bit of loot- which is nice with all of the effort we put in for our horses.
Dunnabeck Horse Trails offers a great weekend of competition while also bringing an inviting and fun atmosphere. The courses are not meant to overface any horse or rider, and we want everyone to enjoy this sport as much as we do on a daily basis. We continue to grow every single year and are already looking forward to 2015. If you are within driving distance of this event, please consider it, as we have a wonderful time and want to share this experience with every horse and rider possible. We hope to see everyone next year!